When Oregon legalized recreational marijuana in 2015, much of conservative Eastern Oregon did not join the green rush. Ontario, a town of about 11,000 people on the Idaho border, voted against allowing pot sales in 2016 — and then the smaller town of Huntington, 30 miles northwest of Ontario and 30 minutes farther from Boise, allowed dispensaries to open and was flooded with cash from Idaho weed tourists, Politico reports. "Huntington was soon receiving $100,000 in tax revenue from a single marijuana shop — half the 400-person city's annual budget." Ontario approved pot sales in 2018.
Now, Ontario — best known as the home of Ore-Ida and the birthplace of the tater tot — is a weekend destination for residents of Boise and Idaho's Treasure Valley, who congregate mostly in a shopping center with a Home Depot, Walmart, fast food restaurants, and four cannabis dispensaries, Politico's Natalie Fertig reports. City Manager Adam Brown tells Politico that Idahoans make about 1,600 "unique trips" to Ontario every day, for tax-free shopping at the big-box stores but mostly for the weed, which is totally prohibited in Idaho.
Ontario had $92 million in cannabis sales in 2020, according to Portland Business Journal, or $2,857 for every resident of Ontario's Malheur County. Multnomah County, which encompasses most of Portland, sold only $378 in weed for every resident in 2020, Politico reports. The $1.5 million in tax revenue Ontario raked in from marijuana last year was about 4 percent of the city's annual budget, and the town is expecting close to $3 million in weed taxes this year.
"Ontario is just one of dozens of border communities around the country that have been transformed into marijuana boom towns thanks to the country's patchwork quilt of cannabis laws," Politico says. "Eighteen states now embrace full legalization, and all of them but California and Alaska share a border with at least one state where cannabis is illegal." In the last five months alone, New York, Virginia, New Mexico, New Jersey, Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota have legalized marijuana, motivated in part by the weed windfalls in neighboring states, Fertig notes. "Those new laws have created more than 20 regions potentially rich with border-crossing cannabis business." Read more at Politico.
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